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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, III

I'm back with the third installment of our series exploring the first time The New York Times mentioned a particular subject. See the previous volumes here and here.

John F. Kennedy
February 24, 1938*

Joseph P. Kennedy, new United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James, sailed for his post yesterday....His five daughters and three of his four sons were at the pier to wish him bon voyage. John F. Kennedy, who is in Harvard, had caught cold while training for the swimming team and was not present.

Harry Potter
December 17, 1998

s_Stone.jpgThis season's most popular piece of children's literature so far is Jamie Lee Curtis's "Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day," a book that many critics said had a title so precisely accurate that it would not make many school libraries. The other books on the fiction best-seller list are "The Night Before Christmas" (Putnam) by Clement C. Moore and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (Scholastic) by J. K. Rowling, certainly closer to belles lettres than Ms. Curtis's work.

Saddam, Smurfs, microwaves, and more all after the jump!

Saddam Hussein
December 25, 1971

saddam-and-hassan.jpgAhmed Hassal al-Bakr, the 57-year-old ailing President of Iraq, is nominal party chief, but it is generally believed that the strongman of the regime is Saddam Hussein Takriti, the young, ambitious vice chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council and assistant secretary general of the Baath party. "Baath fills a vacuum in the Arab world; it offers the Arab left an alternative to Communism," is the opinion of a seasoned Arab diplomat. The Iraqi regime in fact considers itself an island of Islamic progressivism surrounded by the conservative royalist regimes of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf and the military regime in Syria.

The Smurfs
October 14, 1981

Smurf1.gif''Morning television offered a curious lineup today,'' writes Eugene Tonkonogy of Manhattan. Here is the listing: MAGILLA GORILLA GROOVIE GOOLIES KWICKY KOALA TROLLKINS SMURFS ''Hard to make a choice!'' says Mr. Tonkonogy. [From 'Metropolitan Diary']

December 13, 1981

smurftoy.jpgThey're two inches tall and very German. They're blue and they live deep in the forest. In fantasy, there are only a hundred of them. But they've sold in the millions. They're Smurfs - in Europe, Schlumpfen - and according to Wallace Berrie & Company, which distributes the product in America, 30 million have been sold here since the first one crossed the Atlantic in 1979. This year domestic sales will total about $20 million.

The Internet
November 5, 1988

1988computer.jpgThe virus was detected in part because a design error led it to create many copies rather than a single copy on each machine it attacked. Computer researchers said the copies were like echoes bouncing back and forth off the walls of canyons. The program eventually affected as many as 6,000 computers, or 10 percent of the systems linked through an international group of computer communications networks, the Internet.

Microwave Oven
March 31, 1949

earlymicrowave.jpgThough the electronic range that cuts cooking time from hours to minutes will not be possible for home kitchens for several years, one of it chief drawbacks is being overcome....The new combination of "regular" electricity with microwave energy will enable products to brown and to crust as well as cook through. One will bake bread in a matter of minutes without any sacrifice of the delicious crisp surface. incidentally, with this new oven it will be possible to use metal pans, something that cannot be done with other similar appliances, in which glass and paper utensils are used.

May 5, 1957

microwave.jpgThe electronic range, despite its magic appeal to homemakers, is still a luxury item. Since 1954, when the first practical microwave oven was offered on the market by Raytheon, about 2,500 of these appliances have found their way into American homes. But the high price tag still keeps the range out of most kitchens. Today the average cost of an electronic range runs about $1,200. One model, combined with a standard oven below it, is priced at $1,390.

* JFK was previously mentioned several times, including an August 1936 recap of Westhampton sailing results. He finished last if you don't count Patrick O'Gorman, who didn't finish at all. His cold was, to me, far more interesting. Plus I'd transcribed that paragraph before realizing it wasn't the first mention of JFK. So it stays. With an asterisk.


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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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